Since his inauguration, President Trump has found little funding for his “big, beautiful wall.” In the meantime, however, another acquisition promised to deter unauthorized immigrants is coming to the border: iris recognition devices. Thirty-one sheriffs, representing every county along the U.S.-Mexico border, voted unanimously on April 3 to adopt tools that will capture, catalogue, and compare individuals’ iris data, for use both in jails and out on patrol. Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies, the company behind the push, has offered the sheriffs a free three-year trial, citing law enforcement’s difficulties in identifying unauthorized immigrants whose fingerprints can be disfigured through manual labor or self-inflicted wounds.
Iris recognition is just the latest surveillance technology helping fortify what the White House hopes will make up a “digital wall,” a concept that many border sheriffs view as less intrusive than Trump’s envisioned 30-foot barricade stretching from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California. For law enforcement, the tool promises to help identify people without reliable fingerprints and to deter repeat border crossers. And for Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies, which frequently goes by BI2, rapid border expansion means its existing national iris database will receive a huge influx of biometric information on unauthorized immigrants, boosting its product’s capabilities to potential law enforcement clients across the country.
While this high-tech approach to immigration enforcement has not generated anything close to the controversy of Trump’s proposed wall, the campaign to expand iris scan collection on the border is of a piece with the president’s denunciations of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.